The SX230 HS has some of the best photo quality I've seen from a compact megazoom, particularly at higher ISOs. While photos do get softer and noisier above ISO 200--typical for point-and-shoots--ISO 400 and 800 are still very usable. The noise and noise reduction are well balanced so you still get good color and detail at these higher sensitivities. Colors desaturate some at ISO 1,600 and 3,200, subjects look very soft, and detail is greatly diminished, but photos are still usable at small sizes for prints or on a display. Basically, if you need to shoot in low light or want to freeze action, this camera is one of the best options in its class.
Though it doesn't focus as closely as others in its class, the SX230 HS is a capable macro shooter. You can get within 2 inches of your subject and come away with some nice fine detail as long as you keep your sensitivity below ISO 200. (Focus was on the stamens in this photo.)
The SX230's burst mode is disappointing considering its high-speed sensor. It's capable of capturing at 2.2 frames per second, with focus and exposure set with the first shot. It can shoot until your memory card fills up, though, which is nice; competing cameras have a burst limit and make you wait while images are stored before you can shoot again. The camera also has a continuous with AF, but it is really too slow to be useful for sports or other fast-moving subjects.
The camera also has a high-speed burst mode that can shoot 3-megapixel photos at up to 8.1 frames per second. This is a 100 percent crop of the inset photo using this mode. The results are very good compared with similar modes on other cameras I've tested, suitable for small prints and definitely for Web use.
With so many megazoom camera offerings, the SX230's 14x zoom might actually get passed over for not being long enough. That would be a shame because this lens' range is plenty for most uses and honestly, with compact megazooms, the longer the lens, the less detail your photos will have.
There is some asymmetrical distortion on the left side of lens visible at its widest position (top). When the lens is extended there is slight pincushion distortion, but it's barely discernible (bottom).
The SX230 exhibits a high amount of fringing around high-contrast subjects, such as the purple running around the entirety of this flower's petals. It's typical of compact cameras, but the amount is above average for its class, visible even when viewed at small sizes.
Color performance is a strong point with the SX230 HS. Everything turns out bright, well-saturated, and reasonably accurate. Exposure is generally good, though it really struggles with highlights, blowing them out every chance it gets. White balance is fairly accurate, too, but Auto goes warm indoors. You're better off selecting the appropriate preset for your lighting or using a custom setting.
Canon dedicated a spot to its Creative Filters on the Mode dial. From top left to bottom right: Toy Camera Effect, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Color Accent (red), Color Swap (red for yellow), Fish-eye Effect, and Miniature Effect.